Kasyanov sees pipeline merits but remains noncommital

by Kanako Takahara and Tomoko Otake

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov agreed Tuesday that a pipeline project linking East Siberia and Nakhodka, a port in Russia’s Far East, would benefit both countries.

Kasyanov stopped short, however, of making any commitment to prioritizing this project over an alternative route proposed by China.

During his talks with Koizumi, the Russian prime minister also said he would “step up efforts” with regard to a bilateral peace treaty, Japanese officials said.

The long-standing dispute involving the Russian-held islands off Hokkaido that are also claimed by Japan has been the main obstacle to concluding such a treaty.

Koizumi stressed the need to resolve the territorial dispute and to conclude the peace treaty at an early date.

Kasyanov’s remarks on the pipeline, the highlight of his three-day visit to Japan, reflects wording carefully chosen to avoid making a commitment on whether to chose construction of a pipeline to Nakhodka, which would benefit Japan, or one to China.

“If the (Nakhodka) pipeline is built, the value of east Siberia will greatly increase,” Kasyanov said, according to a Japanese official who briefed reporters.

But he also hinted at the need for financial support from Japan, stating that about 50 million tons of oil would be necessary on an annual basis to ensure the cost-effectiveness of the project.

In what appears to be an indication that Japan’s expectations are high, a Japanese official described Kasyanov’s remark as a sign that Russia is leaning toward the Nakhodka project.

The official said Kasyanov did not refer to the significance of China’s plan when he visited there in September.

Russia is wavering over Tokyo’s proposal to link Siberia’s Angarsk with Nakhodka, and a shorter route proposed by Beijing that would link Angarsk and Daiqing, China.

The Nakhodka route would be costly for Russia but oil transported through the pipeline could be sold globally. The cost-effective Daiqing route would limit oil sales to China.

The two leaders also agreed to continue deliberations by experts on the project’s feasibility, financing and the development of an East Siberian oil field.

The two leaders issued a joint statement on overall bilateral relations, including the pipeline project, and two other documents — one on the creation of a bilateral body to promote trade and another on bilateral cooperation on steps to deal with illegal fishing and smuggling of marine products to Japan by Russian ships.

On international affairs, Koizumi explained the decision to send troops to Iraq to engage in humanitarian and reconstruction activities.